Christine McVie’s return lifts Fleetwood Mac back on its Hall of Fame Pedestal
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Mick Fleetwood said it best Wednesday night.
Rising his full 6-foot-5 frame from behind his massive DW drum set, he pointed to keyboardist-vocalist-songwriter Christine McVie, on tour with her Fleetwood Mac bandmates for the first time in 16 years.
“Making all this complete,” the wild-eyed Fleetwood thundered to a sold-out Quicken Loans Arena as the spotlight shone on McVie. “Yes, indeed, our songbird has returned!”
It’s so, so true.
Two years ago, Fleetwood Mac sans McVie cut a wide swath through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band’s expansive catalog, relying on vocals from Stevie Nicks, who never had much range to begin with and has lost much of that over time, and a valiant effort by guitarist-vocalist Lindsey Buckingham. It wasn’t a marathon sonic waterboarding, but those limitations did make for some torturous moments over the course of more than 21/2 hours.
Wednesday night was a completely different experience.
With McVie back on keys, and her still-strong mezzo-soprano offering lead and harmony vocals, the night became a 160-minute prayer that the inevitable end would not happen.
Perhaps oddly, the greatest benefactors of McVie’s presence – aside from those of us in the listening audience – were Nicks and Buckingham.
Gone was the pressure on Nicks to carry an entire night of songs, many of which are out of her throaty wheelhouse.
Gone was the need for Buckingham to fill gaps with guitar solos in a valiant but futile attempt to fool us into thinking something wasn’t missing.
Instead, the two were able to focus on their strengths and the songs for which they are known.
For Nicks, that would be the ethereal “Rhiannon,” the cosmic (although pitchy) “Sisters of the Moon,” the wrenching “Landslide,” the autobiographical “Gypsy” and the even more autobiographical “Gold Dust Woman.”
Buckingham, a more than capable vocalist himself, could tackle “I Know I’m Not Wrong” “Big Love,” “Never Going Back Again” and “I’m So Afraid” (albeit with a bit too much FX on the last for my taste) and deliver the goods on the iconic “Tusk.”
But more than that, McVie’s presence seemed to free him to be what he really is: one of the best – and most unique – guitarists in rock ‘n’ roll.
His Rick Turner Model 1 guitar alternately screamed, wailed, cried, crooned and wooed throughout the night, as he furiously attacked the strings with his finger-picking style.
To be fair, he did that last time, too, and just about as well. But in 2013, it seemed like he was trying to fill those voids created by McVie’s absence. It ended up like rowing with only one oar, and all you do is go in circles.
McVie’s presence was felt from the opening strains the show-starting “The Chain,” and just got stronger with every lead and harmony vocal she did.
She killed “You Make Loving Fun” and took 14,000 of us with on a trip to “Everywhere.” “Say You Love Me” turned into a tour de force of her voice and Buckingham’s guitar work that would’ve made the night complete had it ended just there.
But it didn’t. “Over My Head” and “Little Lies” were spectacular with her in the lead role, and her harmony vocals on other songs helped recreate the lush sound for which Fleetwood Mac is known.
And yet, as important as McVie’s vocals were Wednesday night, there seemed to be a bigger thing at work. Every member of Fleetwood Mac, including bassist John McVie, her ex-husband, seemed content to have her back in the fold.
Fleetwood was right: The band is complete now. Life is good. For them, and for us.
Chuck Yarborough / The Plain Dealer / Thursday, February 19, 2015